HUNDREDS of shops could have been forced to close as a result of the government’s “crippling” labour market fees, it has been claimed.
Bahrain’s small and medium-size business owners say the burden of the BD10 monthly charge for foreign workers has driven many to pull the plug on their enterprises
Protesters have been campaigning for months against the fees and vowed to continue demonstrating against them and new sponsorship regulations, which came into force yesterday.
The Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) introduced the BD10 monthly fee in July last year with the money generated going to Tamkeen to support training for Bahrainis and business development.
However, many business owners have failed to pay the fee and claim the extra financial burden is destroying their businesses and forcing them to close.
The protesters also called for the scrapping of the sponsorship system, which allows foreign workers to switch jobs without their existing employers’ consent.
The decision aims to wipe out the illegal free visa trade and encourage employers to recruit more Bahrainis, as they would no longer be able to force expatriate workers to stay.
Businessman and campaigner Nader Allawy said the group rejected the new labour fees and regulations and would be holding a series of protests and other campaigns in the near future.
“Instead of supporting us in this financial crisis, this is how the government is treating us,” he told the GDN.
“Today, the government is stealing food from the mouths of our children.
“We are very upset about this rule. We can’t do anything but close our shops.”
Mr Allawy said he was in favour of a rule that aimed to put more Bahrainis in the workplace.
But he said the new regulations were not working and were victimising Bahrain’s small and medium-size business owners.
Mr Allawy said the new system wasn’t working because although he wanted to employ Bahrainis, they would not work for the same pay accepted by foreign workers.
“In addition, it was unfair that the government took money from small business owners who were barely making a living and using it to train Bahrainis.
“This money is going to train Bahrainis – the government is stealing money from my pocket, so I can’t send my sons to private school,” he said.
“We have very big problems, my life has stopped, I have taken a loan from a bank, I have built my house but still can’t furnish it.”
Mr Allawy, 47, from Abu Saiba village is the sole breadwinner of his family, including his wife and four children, aged three to 18.
He has been a businessman for 29 years and has commercial registrations for three companies – a carpentry workshop, building materials supplier and exhibition stand builder, and has a shop and office in Hamad Town.
“I had 30 employees working under me but I had to let them go because I can’t afford to pay BD10 for each person because of the financial crisis. Now, I have kept only my son and three people,” said Mr Allawy.
“The government doesn’t give us jobs, so we try our best and open small businesses.
“We need help from the government, instead they are killing us – they need to cancel these fees and support businessmen.
“There are thousands of people who have shops and can’t afford to pay these fees and hundreds of them have already closed.”
Businessman Abdul Aziz Al Bader, who owns Liwa Contracting Company in Hidd, said he had been severely affected by the new regulations and fees.
He claimed because of the new rules he is unable to pay the salaries required by his foreign employees and since they have the freedom to move to another employer who can pay them a higher wage, they are resigning en masse.
He said he had 32 staff but was now left with only five.
“The LMRA promised us to clean the market of free visas,” said the father-of-three.
“We followed what the LMRA said. I took Bahrainis but I can’t give them the salary they want and now expats aren’t scared since they can leave the job any time. There is no control now.”
Mr Al Bader said because of the financial crisis, he was getting fewer jobs and did not have the money to pay the BD10 fee.
“I want them to scrap the fee. We are hard-working people. I think about our children’s future, they can’t work if it is like this,” he said.
“We are following hundreds of rules from the LMRA and the Labour Ministry, but they don’t listen to us.
“We are not saying we don’t want to pay, we are saying we can’t pay because we don’t have money.”
LMRA officials were yesterday unavailable for comment.
By REBECCA TORR,